January 31, 2019- A Faithful Witness, Circumstances, and Theology of the Cross – 2 Timothy 3

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But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.  For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,  having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.  For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions,  always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith.  But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.

 You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me.  Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.  But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3 (ESV)

Timothy was a protégé of the apostle Paul. Here Paul warns Timothy that following Jesus is not all sunshine and roses.  Contrary to most religious teachings that are popular today, Paul underscores the reality that Christians will face hardship and persecution in this world.  We shouldn’t be surprised when we look around and see all the terrible happenings in the news.  We shouldn’t be surprised when bad things happen to us. Yes, we should intercede in prayer for those who suffer.  Yes we should pray at all times and in all of our circumstances. We should not allow the pain that is a part of this world to steal our joy. We should not entertain the same standards as the world does. We do have hope in the clear teaching of Scripture that no matter what this world and this life throws at us, Jesus is with us, in, through and with the suffering and that in Him we have comfort and peace and eternal life.

False teaching that showcases “your best life now” is a heartbreaking lie that only makes despair over the human condition worse. The theology of glory is the theology of the infomercial- just buy into Jesus and your life will be super! It’s the same theory that powers the Sham-Wow guy’s pitch, that if you only have this or that product it will change your life!  The “prosperity gospel”- that Jesus will make you healthy and wealthy here and now- is not Scriptural nor is it truthful.  The First Commandment teaches us that God is God and we are not. We are not to worship at the altar of ourselves or glorify material things. God’s priority for us is for life with Him forever, not necessarily for health and wealth here and now.  He does give us all good things, but He does not always take the cup of suffering away.

We learn the theology of the Cross from Scripture. As we are born into Jesus’ life and resurrection, we are also born into His suffering.  We were created to love and be loved by God, to do the good works He set aside for us to do.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

The more that we cling to Jesus- in our prayers, in our praise, in serving others in our vocations and in diligent study of God’s Word to us in Scripture, the more we grow in faith. Even as the world around us grows darker, we are called to be light.  The light of Christ shines in and through us even as the world works against us and makes fun of us.  In our weakness we are strong in Christ. By faith, He enables us to stand.

 

May 4, 2018-Joyful Noise and Automatic Praise- Psalm 98, Philippians 4:4-13

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Oh sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things!

His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. The Lord has made known his salvation; he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations. He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!  Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody! With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord!

 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it! Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth.

He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity. Psalm 98 (ESV)

On days like today it’s easy to praise God as we take in the beauty of creation. When the sun is shining and we look around and see the trees and flowers coming to life again after a long winter, the metaphors of the “rivers clapping their hands” and the “hills singing” seem to fit.

Many of our days are not quite so bright. What about days where the weather is dull and grey and we are mired down in pain and buried in cares? What about those days in which the furthest thing from our minds and hearts is singing?

Is praise to God an automatic response for us? Do we praise God only when we experience the beauty and wonder of nature and when we can feel the presence of God?  Can we still praise Him through our pain?  When He seems far away?  When we can see the ways we have fallen short of God’s glory due to our own sins?

Can we see the salvation of our God in a world that very often appears to be beyond saving in so many ways?

By faith we can praise the God of our salvation and trust Him even when we can’t see. The apostle Paul was often in situations where he was exiled or imprisoned and had to trust in the support of others.  He wrote to the Philippians who were supporting him while he was imprisoned in Rome:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.  Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me (the apostle Paul)—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:4-13 (ESV)

Through the gift of faith in Christ, we can praise and sing and rest in God’s peace even when we cannot see beauty or feel God’s presence. By faith we know He is there and that He never leaves us. May our praise not be connected to what we see or our current circumstances, but may our praise and worship rise up by faith- automatically in response to the promises of God.

July 17, 2017- So Great a Salvation- Hebrews 2:1-9

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Therefore we must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.  For if the message declared through angels was valid, and every transgression or disobedience received a just penalty, how can we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? It was declared at first through the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him, while God added his testimony by signs and wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, distributed according to his will.

 Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels.  But someone has testified somewhere, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals, that you care for them?

 You have made them for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned them with glory and honor, subjecting all things under their feet.”

Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. Hebrews 2:1-9 (NRSV)

There is a great debate among Christian thinkers and theologians regarding free will. Some say that we humans have been given free rein over everything, which would negate the truth that God is omnipotent (all powerful) and omniscient (all knowing.)  Others say that God controls us much as we humans would play a game of the Sims, with every breath and every thought and every action preplanned. But God didn’t make us to be robots, and He’s not playing a video game.  The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Wisdom would probably dictate that there is an element of mystery in that God does allow us to do our own things, and to screw up…to a point.  Suffice to say that God finds ways of using our free will to do His will, even if we don’t quite understand how that works.

As we learned in this week’s sermon text, (Matthew 13:1-9) God sows His word everywhere, lavishly, generously, almost wantonly, everywhere and on everyone.  Yet the word doesn’t always grow where it’s planted. Sometimes we get discouraged when we plant the seeds only to find that they wither and die and don’t grow.  When we get rejected or mocked for being Jesus followers it can be discouraging.  Sometimes life gets us down too and we get discouraged. We wonder, “What’s the use in following Jesus”, when our circumstances can be so awful.  Or sometimes we get so caught up in material things and so obsessed with God’s gifts that we forget the Giver.

Some have made the comparison that our journey as a Jesus follower is more of a marathon than a sprint. It’s a long haul kind of thing. Like any other relationship or achieving any kind of goal, being a Jesus follower requires effort.  God is in control, but He’s not going to do everything for us.  God expects to hear from us- all the time.  He expects dialogue with us.  He wants us to surrender everything to Him, especially those parts of us that aren’t pretty or that need work.  My grandmother once told me, “It’s OK to be angry with God.  Let Him know about it.  He is bigger than your anger.”  Nothing is off-limits between us and God, because God knows us inside and out anyway.  He’s just waiting for us to admit to ourselves what He already knows.

In our culture of instant gratification, it really is countercultural to be a Jesus follower- to wait on God, to follow His rules, and to live according to His expectations. Our culture says, “NOW!” and “Me first!,” while Jesus says, “Wait,” and “Others first.”  It’s not easy to wait.  It’s not easy to put other people before ourselves.  Following Jesus is not always an easy thing to do, but it is worth the effort.  Better yet, He is patient with us, and He forgives us when we fail.  Every day is a new day He gives us to wake up, put on our Baptism as daily wear (to quote Martin Luther) and try again.

Are we the “good soil” on which God’s word can grow and bring forth a good harvest? Are we willing to plant good seeds everywhere, trusting that our work for God’s Kingdom has a good purpose, and that it’s God’s work and God’s harvest?

Keep on planting.